Out and About: This is the time of year when it seems as if I am personally keeping the Valley's restaurants in business. That's because I'm in the midst of my annual Best of Phoenix odyssey, which keeps me out six nights a week. Here are some random observations on the dining-out scene:
Razz's, 10321 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale: Chef Razz's duck cakes, doused in a nopalito cactus sauce, are as luscious as ever. But Razz needs to ditch the awful bread, which makes a terrible impression. It tasted like it came out of a supermarket plastic bag about two days before I got here.
Restaurant Hapa, 6204 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale: I had only one complaint when I first ate here a year ago: The meal ended with tea-bag tea. Apparently, the proprietors took my suggestion to heart, because now they offer a variety of wonderful loose teas.
Seafood Central, 6990 East Shea, Scottsdale: They've gotten rid of the plastic plates and cups, but the cost of fish is still low. And you can get a great mussels deal, $5.99 for a mound of Prince Edward bivalves in a potent garlic wine sauce.
Durant's, 2611 North Central, Phoenix: In this age of starters like ahi tuna sashimi, seared buffalo carpaccio and foie gras with rhubarb-strawberry compote, the shrimp cocktail doesn't get much respect. I've eaten more than my share of flabby, water-logged crustaceans. But, thank goodness, Durant's still takes the shrimp cocktail seriously. The version here features four big, wonderful shrimp, meaty and firm.
Lon's at the Hermosa, 5532 North Palo Cristi, Paradise Valley: Valley foodies have known for a while that chef Patrick Poblete is a first-rate talent. But so is pastry chef Heath Notley. His chocolate mocha rocha (a toffee-studded mousse surrounded by meringue), and macadamia nut torte with caramelized bananas and chocolate sauce, practically put me in a lather.
RoxSand, Biltmore Fashion Park, 24th Street and Camelback, Phoenix: For the past several years, I've voted for her in the James Beard competition for Best Chef--Southwest. This year RoxSand finally broke through. She hasn't been sitting on her laurels. Her appetizer of marjoram-scented butternut squash and potato strudel is a marvel, in the same league with longtime favorites like b'stilla and curried rice tamale.
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Marquesa, Scottsdale Princess resort, 7575 East Princess Drive, Scottsdale: I can usually walk past the fruit section of a Sunday buffet with no problem. But this place managed to rearrange my priorities. I've never seen fruit like this: blood oranges, passion fruit, yellow seedless watermelon, marinated plums, gooseberries, guava and berries the size of your thumb. Everything looked so fetching I almost passed by the king crab platter unawares.
Eliana's, 1627 North 24th Street, Phoenix: Cheap and tasty are two of my favorite words. And they're the words that come to mind when I think of Eliana's terrific pupusas, Salvadoran tortilla patties stuffed with cheese, pork and beans. At $1.50 each, it doesn't pay to eat lunch at home.
Suggestions? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,